MANHATTAN – In times of stress, such as the nation’s current response to the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes all it takes for people to feel better is just a few mindful moments.
Aliah Mestrovich Seay believes that, because she’s seen it.
“When we stress, we regress,” said Mestrovich-Seay, a Kansas 4-H youth development specialist for culture and communication skills development, and a licensed therapist.
Spurred by a K-State Research and Extension project aimed at reducing stress in rural Kansas, Mestrovich Seay is developing a program centered around social-emotional learning, or a process of dealing with life’s tough moments by developing greater self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills.
Appropriately, the program will be called “Mindful Moments.”
“Right now there are many parents at home with their children,” Mestrovich Seay said. “We are in a period of transition and adaptation. When we have these ingredients, there is a lot of room for innovation, and how we teach social emotional learning with youth and even within our family.”
Over the past year, Mestrovich Seay has incorporated social emotional learning in a 4-H program called Community Conversations: “4-H agents and volunteers have been able to focus youth development programming on being mindful and exercising civility when youth are having tough conversations about societal issues impacting our world today,” she said.
“The Community Conversations series explores how practicing mindfulness is an important part of engaging in effective communication with others and bridging across cultural differences.”
Recently, she’s developed more than a dozen Mindful Moments online lessons that are appropriate for people of all ages. One of her basic lessons? “Just breathe,” Mestrovich Seay said.
“It sounds kind of funny because we are all breathing to stay alive,” she added. “But there’s actually a science to breathing. Simply being aware of our breathing, and taking deep breaths creates the opportunity for more oxygen to get to the brain.
“Sometimes when I’m working with my son who is almost four, and I can tell that his world has been turned upside down, I just remind both of us: ‘Let’s take a moment, maybe one minute, and take five deep breaths.’ It’s amazing how different the experience is interacting with him and other people for that matter when we focus on breathing.”
Among the lessons, Mestrovich Seay said Mindful Moments will explore such ideas as writing daily thoughts in a journal; taking a walk while paying keen attention to the surrounding sensations; and – simply – laughing more.
“Laughing is a great way to relieve tension,” Mestrovich Seay said. “We’re in a period when we are really focused on what’s happening in the news, what’s happening in social media, and sometimes we just need to disconnect and laugh.”
Whatever the activity, she added, the key is to be focused on relieving stress.
“This is a way to intentionally create a sense of calm on the inside when the world may not be so calm on the outside,” Mestrovich Seay said. “Practicing mindful moments will allow you to intentionally and strategically add more calm to your day and with the people around you. It is a form of self care, using techniques that are easy to incorporate.”
Thus far, Mestrovich Seay is receiving guidance from the rural stress team, one of three issue-based groups that K-State Research and Extension formed in late 2019 to address concerns important in Kansas communities. The group hopes to first incorporate lessons with extension faculty and staff across the state, then eventually provide support in extension programs offered to Kansans.
The lessons, Mestrovich Seay said, are appropriate for people of all ages, though her early trials have been with helping kids work through stressful moments.
“There are a lot of different ways that youth handle stress,” she said. “Some of them might just act out more, some of them might be more removed, and some of them might actually want to talk about it. That’s a great way to engage. If they haven’t come to you to talk about it, some of these exercises could be a great way to jumpstart that conversation.”
She adds: “There are a lot of things we don’t have control over, but we do have control over our inner experience.”
For more information about Mindful Moments, interested persons may contact Mestrovich Seay at [email protected].